Berkeley Needs to Move Towards Reimagining, Not Back to Drug War Era Policing
By Andrea Prichett and Elana Auerbach, Berkeley Copwatch
Originally published as an op-ed in Berkeleyside on April 8, 2022 7:30 a.m.
We demand the City Council hold the police department to simple standards of transparency and fiscal responsibility.
The City Council will meet to discuss cops and crime The City Council will meet to discuss cops and crime on Tuesday, April 12, when the city auditor’s recent police overtime audit will be presented. Also on the consent calendar is Councilmember Terry Taplin’s proposal for a new “Flex” team within the police department and a plan to spend $300,000 on “ambassadors” to parks (item #24) in West Berkeley. Then, on Thursday, the city manager’s recommendations on the work of the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF) will be presented to the council.
The question before Berkeley residents is whether to finish the “re-imagining” process currently underway or increase police funding – yet again – hoping that there will somehow be a different outcome.
Despite a year of intense meetings and consultation about policing in Berkeley and over $450,000 spent on consultants, the City Council appears poised to recreate the ineffective drug war approaches of the 1990s that not only failed to stop crime but enacted generational damage on poor neighborhoods and people of color. Taplin wants to create a community policing type of response that requires collaboration and trust. However, the councilmember’s proposal (item #27) lifts up the Drug Task Force (DTF), which was disbanded in 2016 as a model response to violent crime. The DTF has a troubling history of abuse as reported to the City Council in 2015, according to former Councilmember Max Anderson and the NAACP.
Has Taplin noticed that civilian review (Police Accountability Board) is being sued by the Police Officers Association? Does he realize that, thanks to the overtime audit, the police department’s management issues are on full display? Perhaps he hopes that panic and fear-mongering will distract the public from the audit’s disturbing findings.
To be clear, according to the audit, the Berkeley Police Department:
a) exceeds its overtime budget by millions of dollars year after year
b) is not able (or willing) to document who in the department is approving these expenditures
c) rents itself out to private companies (i.e., Apple Store on 4th Street) while simultaneously claiming to have a staffing crisis.
According to Taplin’s proposed plan (item #27), “The Berkeley Police Department currently does not have staffing resources to conduct special investigations to address violent crime and drug trafficking as it did before, despite shootings and drug overdoses rising.” So then, what is our almost $80 million a year police department for if not to address violent crime? Should it really require a special funding request to get the department to do what it purports to be its job?
Acting Police Chief Jennifer Louis suggested that it may be two years until BPD can accommodate the auditor’s recommendations for tracking overtime. It is unacceptable for the BPD to be allowed to dictate the timeline for addressing these urgent concerns. For too long, BPD administrators have stonewalled the Fair and Impartial Policing recommendations. For years, they have slow-walked recommendations by the Police Review Commission and the City Council to the point of insubordination. The pattern of obstruction and resistance to oversight is clear and it must not be allowed to continue.
Far from being “defunded,” the BPD’s budget has actually increased this year. Without any official analysis of what is happening in our streets and what actually prevents crime, why would our city leaders form a new police unit and expect that it will have any impact on crime?
We firmly reject the proposed “Flex” team and demand the City Council hold the police department to simple standards of transparency and fiscal responsibility. We cannot continue to believe that by blindly throwing more money at police, we will get a different result. We must remain on a path of healing. There are many well-developed recommendations from the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force that addresses root causes of harm and crime in our neighborhoods, as well as proven violence reduction and crime prevention programs. That is where we must put our funding and attention.
Andrea Prichett and Elana Auerbach members of Berkeley Copwatch, a volunteer organization started in 1990 dedicated to monitoring police actions.